Both acetaminophen and NSAIDs reduce fever and relieve pain caused by muscle aches and stiffness, but only NSAIDs can also reduce inflammation (swelling and irritation). Acetaminophen and NSAIDs also work differently. NSAIDs relieve pain by reducing the production of prostaglandins, which are hormone-like substances that cause pain. Acetaminophen works on the parts of the brain that receive the "pain messages." NSAIDs are also available in a prescription strength that can be prescribed by your physician.
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Pain is the main reason people ask for a prescription, says Barth Wilsey, MD, a pain medicine specialist at the University of California Davis Medical Center. It could be from headaches, a disease like cancer, or a long-term condition, like glaucoma or nerve pain.
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Using NSAIDs increase the risk of heart attack or stroke and have also been known to cause stomach problems.
Topical pain relievers are also available without a doctor's prescription. These products include creams, lotions, or sprays that are applied to the skin in order to relieve pain from sore muscles and arthritis. Some examples of topical pain relievers include Aspercreme, Ben-Gay, Icy Hot, and Capzasin-P.
Prescription corticosteroids provide relief for inflamed areas of the body by easing swelling, redness, itching and allergic reactions. Corticosteroids can be used to treat allergies, asthma and arthritis. When used to control pain, they are generally given in the form of pills or injections. Examples include: prednisone, prednisolone, and methylprednisolone.
Prescription corticosteroids are strong medicines and may have serious side effects, including:
To minimize these potential side effects, corticosteroids are prescribed in the lowest dose possible for as short of a length of time as needed to relieve the pain.
What Are Opioids?
Opioids are narcotic pain medications that contain natural, synthetic or semi-synthetic opiates. Opioids are often used for acute pain, such as short-term pain after surgery. Some examples of opioids include:
Opioids are effective for severe pain and do not cause bleeding in the stomach or other parts of the body, as can some other types of pain relievers. It is rare for people to become addicted to opioids if the drugs are used to treat pain for a short period of time.